The Plea to Praise Movement

As longtime readers know, some of my earliest research and writing in the psychology of religion literature was devoted to exploring what I've called "Summer Christianity" and "Winter Christianity." This research is summarized in my book The Authenticity of Faith

At the heart of the Winter Christian experience is the co-mingling of faith and lament. This experience seems paradoxical, as many Christians assume faith and lament are antithetical postures. It's this assumption, what I call in my research the bipolar model of faith and lament, that causes Christian communities to avoid lament, fearing that giving voice to pain, disillusionment and anger toward God are expressions of a lack or failure of faith. In the bipolar model lament is deemed pathological, symptomatic of a faith problem.

In contrast to the bipolar model, I've described the circumplex model, where faith and lament can co-exist. 

But again, some may doubt the psychological coherence of the Winter Christian experience. Can faith and lament exist in the same experiential space?

This is a surprising question given the witness of Scripture, how lament and faith are consistently paired together in the experience of Israel's lament. In his work, Walter Brueggemann has described a distinctive feature of Israel's lament: "the plea-to-praise movement." Brueggemann notes that the plea-to-praise movement in the Psalms is one of the most jarring and shocking transitions in Scripture. This move from burning lamentation into faithful praise, seemingly from out of nowhere, is a hallmark of the lament psalms, along with other laments in the Old Testament.

For my part, one of the best examples of the plea-to-praise movement comes from Lamentations 3.

When I was in college we used to sing a devotional song that came from Lamentations 3. Here are the words:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in Him."
Those are beautiful words of praise and trust. But what is startling are the words that precede this hymn of praise. Prior to this song of faithful trust we find some of the most most searing and gut-wrenching words of lament and sorrow in the whole of Scripture. Accusation after accusation is hurtled at God. It's very uncomfortable to read, some of the riskiest and most daring language in the Bible. 

And then, out of nowhere, emerges a hymn of trust and praise. It's really one of the most startling juxtapositions in all of Scripture:
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;

he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;

surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;

he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;

he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;

though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;

he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.

He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;

he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;

he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.

He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;

I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.

He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;

my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;

so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!

My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

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